Thursday, August 02, 2007

Rheology in action (or, How to be dull and cool at the same time)

Yesterday I promised Chaotic Hammer that I would provide something even more exciting than watching glitter settle, watching paint dry, or watching grass grow. As it so happens, it is something right up my alley.

What I speak of is an experiment in rheology. But first, let me introduce you to Deborah - judge of Israel and the first recorded rheologist. There is a relation, called the Deborah number which relates the time over which an object is deformed to some characteristic time of the material. If the deformation occurs faster than the characteristic time, the object behaves like a solid. But, if the deformation occurs over a long period of time the material will flow. Deborah described this in her song of praise when she said "The mountains flowed before the LORD" (Judges 5:5). Yes, even rock flows, given enough time.

Pitch drop experimentAnd so, the experiment I speak of is The Pitch Drop Experiment - recognized as the longest running laboratory experiment by the Guinness Book of World Records. Started in 1927, this experiment has won its initiator an Ig-Nobel Prize for Physics in 2005! What you see here is a funnel which was filled with hot pitch in 1927, allowed to harden for three years, and then in 1930 the stem of the funnel was opened and the pitch allowed to flow. For those of you not familiar with pitch, it has long been used to seal boats against leaking; however, at room temperature it is hard and glassy and will shatter when hit (see below picture).

Are you bored yet? Well, it gets better. As I described above, even rock flows over time, and this pitch flows much faster than rock. In the 77 years since the stem was opened and amazing eight drops of pitch have exuded from this funnel of "solid" pitch. Wow! And a ninth drop is forming. They have a webcam on it, but I cannot seem to get it to work for me - ah, well. The current curator of the experiment, among others, hope it will continue for another century - "sympathetic custodians permitting".

This website and experiment are so blandly exciting that they were awarded the
Dull Website of the Year — 2006 award by The Dull Men's Club. It was tough competition, but they edged out the International Vinegar Museum in South Dakota, Mushy Peas, Turnips, and Something. Again, wow; although in all honesty Turnips and Something hardly deserved to be in contention.

Really, you should take some time to check out
The Dull Men's Club - just make sure you have been highly caffeinated before viewing their site. They currently have a vigorous conversation ongoing over the best marmalade and have highlighted a new documentary film honoring the fiftieth anniversary of "the world's font" - Helvetica. It is actually a highly-rated film on Internet Movie Database. Again, wow. But don't get too excited.

In the vein of today's post, I will close with a dull piece of trivia: what do the following words have in common?


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erin said...

Wow, sure is something.

As for the words, I don't know what they have in common but repeating letters ("s" in "assess," "n" in "banana," etc.).

Douglas said...

Each pair of words has a set of letters that are the same, separated by a different letter(s).

euphrony said...

Erin, MB - you're on the right trail. Keep looking.

Chaotic Hammer said...

They're all palindromes with an additional letter at the beginning.

euphrony said...

We have a winner, folks. Right you are C-Ham. And since they are palindromes with an extra letter in front, you can move that letter to the end and spell the same word backwards.

Exciting, is it not?

(And bonus points for using palindrome.)

Anonymous said...

I got the word game, I'm just not as fast on the trigger as C-ham. (And I was totally planning to show off by using the word palindrome as well! Grrr...)

And you're correct sir: pitch dripping is mighty boring. It's so good, in fact, that the next time my wife makes a comment about me being nerdy, I'm headed over to a certain website to prove to her that it could be worse...

euphrony said...

Hey, Cach, living in Houston automatically makes life exciting. Witness the number of car wrecks my family has been in this year alone, and the savvy with which I deal with both insurance company and the body shop to facilitate repairs.

Waco, on the other hand - man, you can go years with nothing happening there. I hear some people have to use defibrillators just to get up every morning.

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